Before diving into our topics of silicones in cosmetics, you probably didn’t know this yet, but you’ll never (or rarely) see me at the beach. It’s practically impossible. And the reason why is that, like many of you, I once saw a certain film that completely traumatised me… Can you guess? Here’s a hint: way out at sea… the background music going dun dun dun dun… (Well, that’s hard to get when I have to write it down.)
Here’s another one: a shadow passing underwater with just a dorsal fin sticking out… Dun dun, dun dun, dundun dundun dundun dundun… Can you guess yet? Should be easy now. Yes, that’s right, it’s Jaws. Because of that movie, I’m unable to even put my feet in the water.
The worst part is that it doesn’t stop there. I’m so traumatised that if I can’t see the bottom of a swimming pool, I’m not going in there. I know, how silly is that? I always imagine that some monster with razor sharp teeth could emerge from the bottom of the pool at any moment… But that’ll teach me to spend my time watching TV… I told you, I’m curious, but not very brave. 😉
These are phobias that go against common sense… I know how ridiculous it is, imagining sharks in swimming pools (even in those small inflatable things for kids…) and I can laugh about it, but it’s a part of me…
Fears like this (not necessarily phobias) have also become very common place in the world of cosmetics. And even as a fervent organic consumer, I think it’s dishonest and not right to deliberately encourage unjustified rumours, even if they help the expansion of organic products. There’s a whole lot of things you could – often justly – criticise the “traditional” cosmetics industry for, but the organic branch of cosmetics isn’t without fault either, particularly in its often caricatural talk… Here too, everything isn’t all black or white.
I believe that everyone should get to make a properly informed choice, taking the available data into account, and that’s more or less the purpose of this blog. I won’t probably tell you what to get, or what choices to make; I’d rather just give you what you need, and then leave it up to you to decide what you want on your own!
“Give a man a fish, and he’ll be fed for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll be fed for a life time.” And as Geluck added: let’s just hope he likes fish. 😉
So in today’s article, we’ll be looking at silicones. I’ve been asked a question on the dangers of silicones… Are silicones harmful to our skin? For my reply, I’ve decided I should be clear, but most of all keep things simple. I won’t go into the details, to avoid letting my articles become even longer than they already are…
What are silicones?
Silicones are substances that are being very widely used in cosmetics. That’s because it’s more or less the common basic ingredient that any formulator probably uses in every one of their creams, skin serums, shampoos, hair care products…
These substances make the formula much softer, contributing to a better spread. They are fluid, soft, not sticky, shiny… In short, sensation-wise, it’s the best thing ever.
How do you recognise them on the INCI list?
It’s pretty simple. Silicones mostly have names that end in -cone or -siloxane. For example: dimethicone, cyclomethicone, cyclopentasiloxane… (The difference is in the number of atoms, the three-dimensional arrangement of the molecules, etc.)
Are they harmful to the skin?
Rest assured, there’s no danger to your skin or hair. Their advantage is, of course, the sensory aspect (although I also know plenty of people who can’t stand silicone…), the (artificial) smoothening effect, your skin will be softer, your hair will be silkier, you can comb them much more easily… In general, for hair, silicones offset the drying effects of surfactants, and cover the hair with a protective sheath that makes the hair softer and easier to disentangle, protects it from dampness from the environment, and gives it shape and volume…
The drawback is that silicones can also have a semi-occlusive effect; i.e. they tend to smoother the skin and the scalp. (I didn’t say the hair. 😉 ) To be precise, it depends on the particular type of silicone used… but please bear with me.
There can be a bright side to this semi-occlusive effect: in a way, it also protects your skin from harmful external influences… like pollution and such… like a second skin. But note that this is only superficial, and I wouldn’t recommend this for daily usage, because that way your skin might come to depend on that type of product, and become duller in the long run.
The problem is also that that layer can accumulate, since for this kind of silicone, it can be rather hard to clean off… hence the importance of cleaning off your make-up thoroughly every night… (People just keep saying that, don’t they?)
For your hair, this accumulation may lead to reduced volume, hair that retains fats, quicker secretion of sebum, and therefore a need for more frequent washing… and a product that runs out quickly…
Another drawback is an increased chance of ending up with lumpiness issues. You know, those little balls of icky stuff that you can get from rubbing your skin, when you have too thick a layer of silicone on there… that stuff that gathers into those wonderful accumulations when you apply your foundation cream onto your day cream… doesn’t that drive you up the wall?
Are they harmful to the environment?
Although there’s no risk of real harm to your skin, the environmental risk, on the other hand, is pretty troubling. These molecules are chemically inert, very stable, and that raises the question of their biodegradability… It seems to take them 400-500 years on average to decompose… with all the pollution risks and risks of disturbing the ecosystem that result from that.
Types of silicones:
There are a whole lot of different silicone families, but the most common ones are dimethicone and cyclopentasiloxane.
These two kinds of silicones have very different properties and, as such, behave very differently.
- Dimethicone is one of the silicones with a high molecular weight, it’s heavy, good for sheathing hair, but also the most difficult one to get rid of, due to not being water-soluble, which can in the long run make your hair heavy and accumulate on the scalp.
- Cyclopentasiloxane, on the other hand, is water-soluble, is very volatile compared to dimethicone, and therefore doesn’t accumulate.
In cosmetic products, there’s often a combination of the two… Formulation often means looking for the right proportions, to get different sensations, different, properties, etc.
In my case, I haven’t used any silicone products since my rebellious teenager days. (I’ve been into organic products for years, since long before they became popular.)
But I can understand if some people don’t want to change their habits. So: if you choose to keep using these products, there’s strictly speaking no harm in that; silicones are chemically inert. What you do need to keep in mind is the risk of this occlusive effect and the accumulation of silicones on your skin and hair.
A few tips:
You could, for example, make sure you thoroughly clean your skin every evening in order to get rid of the residue, and use a cream with no silicones in the evening, (not your hand cream if possible lol) so that your skin will be “protected” during the day but it can breathe during the night.
To avoid lumpiness, try a day cream without silicones and a foundation cream with them, or the other way around… that should help to keep those nasty things from forming.
Shampoo containing dimethicone can, in the long run, make your hair heavier, due to this accumulation, which can explain a lack of volume… Here you could, for example, alternate a product like that with a different product that doesn’t have silicones in it, that restores your hair’s lightness… You’d have to try this yourself, and find a frequency that’s right for you.
And with that I hope I’ve answered your questions and reassured you about this silicone problem… and adequately warned you against improper product usage… and also taken enough care to be clear and simple. It’s a blog, after all, not a scientific dissertation about silicones. 🙂
What about you? Do you like the sensation of silicones in particular? Or does it bother you? What about irrational fears like mine with sharks? Do you have anything like that? (Well, I have some other ones too, some of them understandable, others not so much… but hey, I can laugh about it.)